The demands put forward by Vladimir Putin to the West (U.S. and NATO) to provide security guarantees to Russia have evoked a lively response in various countries, including Slovakia. The tension that Russia has been deliberately inflaming recently in relations with the West, among other things through its aggressive policy towards Ukraine, has been accompanied by sharp anti-Western rhetoric, which has not gone unnoticed. Slovakia has been a member of NATO and the European Union since 2004 and views everything that is said in Russia about the West relative to its own position, to the general situation in the Central European region, and to its relations with neighboring countries that are members of NATO and the EU (Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary) or that are seeking to become members of these interstate associations (Ukraine).
It seems that to the moderately well-informed person who has followed the development of events and how relations between Russia and key Western states have developed in recent years, or for the person who observes Russian politics in the so-called «near abroad» or in Central Europe, the situation should be clear. The Russian authoritarian regime, which has consolidated its positions within the country, has cleared the political space of any opponents, political or civic, and suppressed critical media, has embarked on a path of a violent confrontation with external actors – Russia’s neighbors (Georgia and Ukraine) – and with members of the Western community – the EU and NATO as organizations and the U.S. and its allies.
The motley alliance of friends of the Kremlin
However, not everyone agrees with this interpretation of events, including the Kremlin itself, convinced that the West intends to weaken Russia and hinder its further development, and individual citizens living in NATO and EU member countries. Slovakia is no exception. It happens often that as soon as the Kremlin takes some steps in international relations, and the Kremlin propaganda begins to substantiate and justify these steps, a certain group of citizens in Slovakia immediately becomes active – heterogeneous in their ideological preferences and political status, but united in their ideas about the global situation and about the role of Russia in how this is developing.
According to these ideas, Russia always strives for peace and everything it does, including military actions, is aimed solely at maintaining peace, while the West, on the contrary, is the initiator of international conflicts that undermine the foundations of peaceful coexistence, lead to the creation of a hostile encirclement of Russia, to interference in its internal affairs, and incite its neighbors against Russia essentially along the entire perimeter of its territory.
Members of this group are known to question Slovakia’s membership in NATO or openly and loudly express disagreement with it, criticize the policies of Western countries, and accuse the Slovak government of betraying the country’s national interests. Among them are communists and self-proclaimed left socialists, radical rightists, fascists, and reactionary conservatives. They find a platform for presenting the results of their creative activity in social networks and have maintained an online presence for many years. They can be safely called the disinformation soldiers and conspiracy troops of the Slovak internet. In parliament, they are widely represented in factions of opposition parties. They are present in full force in the factions of two right-wing extremist, neo-fascist parties, and there are also quite a few in the parliamentary faction of the former ruling (now opposition) Social Democratic Smer («Direction») party.
Former dissident and now friend of Putin
The former Slovak politician Jan Čarnogurský, a former Catholic dissident, former chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement, former Minister of Justice, former Deputy Prime Minister, and former Prime Minister of Slovakia, responded in the most expanded form to Russian demands for the West to form security guarantees for Russia. Now he is engaged in private advocacy and concurrently heads the Slovak-Russian Society. This organization is perhaps the most active player in the pro-Russian lobby in Slovakia. In browsing the site of this society, one cannot get rid of the feeling that although in form it is a Slovak resource, published in the Slovak language, but in content it is a Russian resource – not an independent resource, but a government resource that is, in fact, propaganda. The resource serves as an aggregator of materials prepared both in Slovakia, including by members of the Slovak-Russian Society, and in Russia and other countries. All these materials have an unequivocal pro-Russian, or rather pro-Kremlin, orientation.
For more than 15 years, Čarnogurský himself has been serving as an active conductor of Russian influence in Slovakia, referring to himself at times, with mock irony, as a «Russian agent.»
How did he assess the latest Russian proposals? In the article under the meaningful heading «There is talk of the annulment of NATO expansion to the East,» Čarnogurský retells the well-known Russian interpretation of the development in the region of Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the communist regimes while fully agreeing with this interpretation: the West (U.S. and Germany) allegedly made a promise to the USSR that NATO will not expand to the East, but this promise was broken. According to Čarnogurský, at that time, «an opinion began to form in the United States, which later resulted in the Wolfowitz Doctrine, that the United States should not allow the birth of a power with territory and resources that would allow it to compete with the United States. In practice, this only meant Russia and China. Not a single American politician has repeated the promise not to expand NATO. On the contrary, in the mid-1990s, the most servile dissidents towards the U.S. – Vaclav Havel, Landsbergis in Lithuania, Walesa in Poland – began to call for NATO expansion. President Bill Clinton pretended that he was only responding to the invitation of the Eastern Europeans and began preparations for the expansion of NATO.»
There is much that is strange in Čarnogurský’s quoted reasoning: the name of the U.S. Secretary of Defense is confused (Wolfowitz, not «Wulfowitz»), and the rebukes of American politicians are inexplicable, as they certainly did not give (nor could they give) any promises to anyone that their promises would «not repeat» later. Also perplexing is the stone he, a former dissident, cast at fellow dissidents who, during years of captivity, fought against repressive totalitarian regimes and after democratic revolutions, for obvious reasons, sought to create favorable conditions for the external security of their countries. But the main thing is that the reasoning of the former Slovak politician completely fits into the outline that Vladimir Putin drew as a prelude to his «projects,» or demands.
Čarnogurský continues almost word for word his beloved Vladimir Vladimirovich’s analytical reasoning: «The West has driven Russia into a geopolitical corner. If it deploys weapons in Ukraine, it will take an American missile 5 minutes or less to reach Moscow. Let the West assure Russia as much as it likes that its missiles will not threaten it, but once they are deployed the West will be able to dictate terms to Russia. The Anglo-Saxons in particular have a fondness for the natural resources of Russia.»
But Russia, Čarnogurský rejoices, has an effective response to the aggressive behavior of the U.S. and NATO – hypersonic missiles that can overpower any air defense system. It is this response that predetermines, in his opinion, the success of the ultimatum put forth by Russia to the West. This is how Čarnogurský approaches Russian demands – as an ultimatum with which he fully agrees: «The reality of the technical characteristics of Russian missiles is evidenced by the radical demands that Putin has now presented to Biden. Putin is effectively demanding that Biden cancel NATO’s eastward expansion. Such demands can be put forward and secured only if there is military superiority.»
The former Slovak dissident and politician wholeheartedly wishes the success of the Russian foreign policy «initiative.» At the same time, he sees a broader picture of desired consequences of such a development of events: «Slovakia’s objective interest lies in Russia’s success in the negotiations. If the Russians succeed, then the Americans will not be able to place any weapons on our territory that could make us a target for Russian missiles. Russia’s success would save all of Europe from nuclear missile danger, as it would renew the ban on medium-range and short-range missiles, which protects Europe above all. Russia’s success will prevent Ukraine from turning its domestic problems into a European and global problem.»
The «main» channel
In Slovakia, there is no single Russian printed or online publication in Slovak language (unlike, for example, the Czech Republic or Poland, where versions of the Russian Sputnik in Czech and Polish are in circulation). This gap, however, not without success, being filled by local pro-Russian media platforms, among which the online daily Hlavné správy (Main News) particularly stands out. In accordance with its name (as they say, nomen omen), it is the main disinformation-conspiracy («alternative») pro-Russian media in Slovakia. And it, of course, could not remain distant from the discussion (or rather, praise) of Putin’s ultimatum.
The platform published an article titled «Russia is threatened again – the enemy is at the border and the traitors are at home,» with quotes pulled from Russian publications including Radio Sputnik, TASS, Interfax, and Tsargrad. In the style of typical Russian propaganda, the authors of the article, which was published through the main Slovak channel of Russian informational influence, link Putin’s demands towards the West with the need to completely defeat the opposition inside Russia, the fifth column, and internal enemies of the Kremlin regime.
Separate formulations of this opus simply go off scale from the point of view of their correspondence not only to reality, but also to common sense. The following statement is representative: The West is pushing Russia towards a large conflict. It is provoking Russia. It fills the media space with reports of 175,000 Russian soldiers on the border with Ukraine while it [the West!!! – G.M.] is pulling its troops around the entire perimeter of the European part of Russia.
Together with the Kremlin, Hlavné správy is broadcasting in a truly menacing tone: «In December 2021, the Russian president offered the West a package of peace proposals. In fact, this is a clear ultimatum. This is the last warning. (The «package of peace proposals» is the last warning! You cannot say it more clearly – G.M.) In case there is any doubt, the President stated at his press conference that «immediate security guarantees are needed.» A little later, he stressed that if there are no guarantees, then Russia has a «’military-technical response’ to the situation.»
And so that no one really has any doubts about who is to blame for the situation and what needs to be done, Hlavné správy claim the following: «Russia is being provoked to war and is really threatened with war. A new Cold War is already being waged against Russia, and Russia will react accordingly: ‘if you want a war, you’ll get it!’»
But hope for a good outcome is still alive due to decisive actions at home, on the domestic front: «Russia will again do everything to survive this new cold war… Russia must first get rid of foreign agents. State policy should be made understandable for the typical ‘simple Russian,’ who, as was the case many times, would rather die than allow a foreign soldier to occupy his land. »
And not a word about what a «typical Russian» in a soldier’s uniform did «on the ground» in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, and Central Africa, and about who, while they were there, died on these «lands.»
To paraphrase a well-known expression and give it a touch of irony, it can be said that individual conductors of pro-Kremlin influence in Slovakia are ready to fight for Putin’s «peaceful ultimatums» to the last Slovak. Fortunately, such a scenario is unlikely due to Slovakia’s membership in NATO.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Как кремлевское лобби в восточной Европе поддержало ультиматумы Путина